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Miriam Defensor-Santiago

Miriam Defensor-Santiago, born Miriam Palma Defensor, is a Filipina lawyer, politician, and a Senator of the Philippines, with a focus on Constitutional Law. She is the founder and current leader of the People’s Reform Party as well as its former presidential candidate. Santiago was born in Iloilo City, Iloilo to District Judge Benjamin A. Defensor and Dimpna Palma Defensor, a school principal. In her youth, she graduated as class valedictorian in both elementary and high school levels. She completed her secondary education at Iloilo High School (now Iloilo National High School).

Despite a three-month bout with illness, Santiago attended the University of the Philippines in Diliman. There she continued to participate in numerous oratorical, public speaking, and debate contests. She became the first female editor-in-chief of the university’s student newspaper, The Philippine Collegian and was twice made Corps Sponsor of the Reserve Officer Training Corps. Her classmates include the likes of former Senate President Franklin Drilon, San Juan Representative Ronaldo Zamora, and Eli Pamatong.


In 1965, Santiago graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science. It took her only three and a half years to complete her degree. Upon graduation, she was elected to the Pi Gamma Mu and Phi Kappa Phi international honor societies. Miriam took the 1969 Bar Exams and barely passed with a 78% Bar rating. Santiago decided to teach Political Science to undergraduates at Trinity College of Quezon City. She then attended the University of Michigan Law School from 1974 to 1976, earning the degrees of Master of Laws and Juris Doctor.

Santiago continued enrolling in short courses, attending seminars and participating in conferences locally and abroad. In 1995, at the age of fifty, she completed the academic requirements for a Master of Arts in Religious Studies at the Maryhill School of Theology with an average grade of 1.25. In 1996, at the age of fifty-one, she attended the Summer Program of Instruction for Lawyers at Harvard Law School. In 1997, at age fifty-two, she attended the Summer Program in Law at Oxford University.

In 1986, Santiago was recognized as one of the Ten Outstanding Young Professionals of the Philippine Junior Chamber of Commerce. In 1988, she sought and won the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service, which claims to be the Philippine equivalent of the Nobel Prize. In 1996, The Australian Magazine ranked Santiago 69th among "The 100 Most Powerful Women in the World", sharing the honor with former Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos who ranked 58th.

Santiago is married to Atty. Narciso Yap Santiago Jr., her former classmate at the University of the Philippines. Narcisco was once an undersecretary for Interior and Local Governments, and is currently a presidential adviser for revenue enhancement. He is also a businessman. Santiago’s brother, Benjamin Jr., is a retired general who served as Philippine Air Force commander and Armed Forces Chief of Staff. He is currently an ambassador-at-large for counter-terrorism. Two of her cousins are congressmen. Matias Defensor represents the third district of Quezon City, where Santiago resides, and Arthur Defensor represents the third district of Iloilo, Santiago’s hometown. Santiago’s nephew, Michael Defensor, is a former presidential chief of staff who ran and lost in a Senate seat in the 2007 elections.

Santiago was appointed by President Corazon Aquino as Commissioner of the Bureau of Immigration and Deportation in 1988. She served in that capacity until 1989. She was Secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform from 1989 to 1991.In her tenure as Commisioner of Immigration,she cleanses it and launched an anti-corruption crusades.When a congressman delivered a priveleged speech against her for conducting a raid involving the arrest of foreign pedophiles occupying a village in his district,Miriam labeled him as a "Fungus Face".But finally the recognition of her dangerous work came,she earned the Ramon Magsaysay Award for government service. After President Corazon Aquino declared her intention not to seek another term in the 1992 elections, Santiago ran for president, seeking Aquino’s endorsement. She founded the People’s Reform Party as her vehicle.

Santiago ran for the Senate of the Philippines in 1995 elections, again as a candidate of her own People’s Reform Party. She was elected to the senate and served as a senator from 1995 to 2001. As a Senator, Santiago became a vocal critic of the Ramos Administration.And was named as Most Outstanding Senator several times.She was among the topnotchers for the number of bills filed,and she is most impressive in Senate debates with her meticulous preparations. Santiago again ran for president in the 1998 elections and invited fellow Senator Francisco Tatad to be her running mate. Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino candidate Joseph Ejercito Estrada won the election and became president, though Santiago again made claims of electoral fraud. After the election, Santiago returned to the Senate.

During President Estrada’s impeachment trial Santiago was one of eleven senators who voted against opening a bank envelope that purportedly contained damning evidence of President Estrada’s guilt. The vote ended the impeachment trial which led to the Second People Power Revolution which removed Estrada from office. Santiago ran unsuccessfully for reelection in the 2001 elections. Three years later, in the 2004 elections, Santiago ran again for senator, this time joining President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s K4 coalition and won. She currently holds the position of chairperson and lone member of the People’s Reform Party.

Santiago was a professor of political science in Trinity College of Quezon City from 1971 to 1974 and concurrently Special Assistant to the Secretary of Justice from 1970 to 1980. She was also a member of the Board of Censors for Motion Pictures from 1977 to 1979. She served as a legal officer of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva, Switzerland from 1979 to 1980. She was also a legal consultant of the Philippine Embassy in Washington D.C. in 1982. She was appointed as a Regional Trial Court Judge from 1983 to 1987. She taught Law at the University of the Philippines from 1976 to 1988. From 1992 to 1995 and from 2001 to 2004, she has lectured at the University of Santo Tomas, De La Salle University, Colegio de San Juan de Letran, and the University of Perpetual Help Rizal.

Other Information

  • Born : June 15, 1945
  • Birth place : Iloilo City, Philippines
  • Nationality : Filipino
  • Political party : People’s Reform Party (1992-present)
  • Spouse : Narciso Y. Santiago, Jr.
  • Residence : Quezon City
  • Occupation : Lawyer, Politician
  • Profession : Lawyer, Politician
  • Religion : Roman Catholic


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